Nick Moran got in touch with me in November with photos of a Mallard x White-cheeked Pintail hybrid he'd seen at Nunnery Lakes. I wasn't convinced from the first image he showed me but other photos supported his proposed ID. We'd discussed me visiting early one morning but plans were scuppered by the surprise finding of a Little Bunting and a Siberian Chiffchaff at the site, and the disappearance of the hybrid duck. Then on Friday the bunting hadn't been seen again but the duck had reappeared, and a better photo seemed to confirm that it was indeed Mallard x White-cheeked Pintail. There is public access to the north end of Nunnery Lakes but not the bit where the duck had frequented so Nick kindly offered to let me in on Saturday 19th November. Nick and Neil would be ringing there but Nick would meet me at the public hide and show me where to go.
I arrived early and met Nick as planned. Good to meet Nick - a name that's been familiar to me for ages but a face I'd not matched to the name before. He showed me where to go before returning to the ringing station and I had an enjoyable wander round. No sign of the target though, but a drake Mandarin, a couple of Snipe feeding out in the open and frequent sightings (or hearings) of Kingfishers. Several Siskins flew over as well as one or two Redpolls including one feeding Lesser Redpoll.
Kingfisher, Nunnery Lakes, 19th November
Snipe, Nunnery Lakes, 19th November
Mandarin, Nunnery Lakes, 19th November
Lesser Redpoll, Nunnery Lakes, 19th November
News that Nick and Neil had trapped the Siberian Chiffchaff was fortuitous and had me scurrying over to where they were based. Great to see this scarce and subtle bird in the hand - the first time I've done so. Nice to meet Neil for the first time too.
Siberian Chiffchaff, Nunnery Lakes, 19th November
Once that was released I headed back to continue my search for the duck but in no time I had another message from Nick - the Little Bunting had reappeared! I headed back towards them hoping I would reach them in time before it disappeared for another few days. As I got close to them they started looking up into a small tree just above them and there in the top was the Little Bunting. It wasn't all that far from me so I took a few photos, during which time it flew off calling. Great to hear it calling as I missed out on that experience with the bird I found at the coast recently. It went down but despite our best efforts we couldn't find it again - and it hasn't been seen again there since.
Little Bunting, Nunnery Lakes, 19th November
They now had a dilemma though - whether or not to release news. Nunnery Lakes is a private site, one end of which has public access via a permissive footpath. The Siberian Chiffchaff and the Little Bunting were not in that part - they were in a section where access is restricted even for BTO staff. Arranging access for visitors would always be tricky here, although had the birds been showing reliably they would have attempted to do so. As it was the Little Bunting hadn't been seen for 3 days, despite searching, and had now gone missing again. I'm sure they made the right decision not to release news at this point. In fact neither the Chiffchaff nor the Little Bunting were seen again at all - at least not at Nunnery Lakes. Both birds have possibly been relocated elsewhere during the last week or so... Nick found what was very likely the same Little Bunting not all that far away across the border at Knettishall in Suffolk, and a ringed Siberian Chiffchaff with a single pale inner greater-covert in its left wing (like the Nunnery Lakes bird) turned up at Fen Drayton.
I failed in one final attempt to see the hybrid duck but I didn't mind. To have seen a Siberian Chiffchaff in the hand and had good if brief views of a Little Bunting, I'd had a fantastic morning. It would have been a great morning at a coastal migration station but at a fairly average set of fishing lakes miles from the coast it was quite extraordinary. Of course Nick and Neil were at pains to point out that it's not normally this good, but what a fantastic introduction to Nunnery Lakes! Just goes to show what's possible if you regularly watch an inland patch, and I feel very privileged to have been part of this purple patch purely through sheer chance having been invited there only to see a hybrid duck. I certainly didn't go there expecting to see and photograph a Little Bunting and a Siberian Chiffchaff!
On my way back to the car I saw my third Greylag Goose x Canada Goose hybrid of the morning, this one with a white streak down the side of the breast probably betraying domestic ancestry of the Greylag parent.
domestic Greylag Goose x Canada Goose hybrid, Nunnery Lakes, 19th November
One of the earlier birds had quite extensive white around the head and upper neck which may betray domestic ancestry too, although the extent of white is variable on normal Greylag x Canada Goose hybrids.
Greylag Goose (probably domestic) x Canada Goose hybrid, Nunnery Lakes, 19th November
Common woodland birds on my walk back to Nun's Bridge included Marsh Tit, Nuthatch and Treecreeper. At Nun's Bridge a Grey Wagtail flew over and the family party of domestic goose x Canada Goose hybrids was still present (I'd first seen these when twitching the Black-bellied Dipper in February 2013). The domestic parent appears to be a mix of Greylag Goose and Swan Goose so the offspring are trigens.
Moorhen, Nun's Bridge, 19th November
After this I birded a few sites in the Brecks not finding very much of interest. The original Reeves's Pheasant x Common Pheasant hybrid is still at Threxton Hill and a Nuthatch was seen at Bodney Warren. A flock of about 40 Bramblings were south of Cockley Cley and Marsh Tit or two nearby.
Reeves's Pheasant x Common Pheasant hybrid, Threxton Hill, 19th November
I stopped off at the patch at dusk seeing a Peregrine on one of the gravel workings.
Peregrine, near Bittering, 19th November